Directing Ibsen's Little Eyolf

Throughout his lifetime, Ibsen stated that he was always searching for a way to marry the form and the content. This especially can be noted in the plays after A Doll's House, which is the last play in which any touch of Scribean structuring or plot artificiality can be found.34 Thus, in analyzing the drama, it was necessary to look at the structure and its inherent meaning in conjunction with the content. To do this, I found two books especially helpful. One was Script Into Performance: A Structuralist Approach by Richard Hornby. The other was Backwards And Forwards by David Ball. In order to understand how these two books were employed in my analysis of Little Eyolf, it is helpful to understand each book's approach to textual analysis. Since the first book that I was made aware of was the former, I shall start with it.

According to Hornby, the purpose of Script Into Performance: A Structuralist Approach is to assist the developing of ". . . approaches to the production of classical playscripts that will be valid, imaginative, and powerful. . ."35 A means of doing this is through the use of Structuralism.

Structuralism, according to Hornby, is a perspective that views a work of art, regardless of media, as an interrelated mechanism rather than a collection of disconnected parts. "It finds the essence of the work in the relation between the parts rather than in the parts themselves; these relations form patterns or "structures" that define what the work truly is."36

Hornby continues by stating that this approach is based on a more modern scientific approach, using the example of science going from a "this world" (what can be seen and/or proven beyond a doubt) approach to a "hidden world" (the science of quantum physics and other theoretical-based sciences) approach. In terms of theatrical approaches to text, Hornby cites Behaviorism, the naturalistic idea of evident influences on behavior, as a "this world" approach to text analysis, which, as he states, is a less controversial approach. Structuralism, on the other hand, is a "hidden world" approach. It seeks to reveal the "hidden world," thus rendering it un-hidden, in order to interpret the world and use this interpretation to enhance the experience of the work, not to substitute the interpretation for the experience.37 To summarize, Hornby states the following "principles" of the Structuralist method of interpretation: 

  1. It reveals something hidden 
  2. It is intrinsic 
  3. It incorporates complexity and ambiguity 
  4. It suspends judgement 
  5. It is wholistic 
In order to more fully realize this method of interpretation, it is helpful if I explain each "principle" in a little more detail.

A better definition, according to Hornby, of "hidden" is "not immediately obvious." However, one does not seek the "hidden" for merely the love of the arcane. The point is that the Structuralist views a text as a complex entity having many interpretations. He attempts to find something more profound.

Hornby considers the act of interpretation, not the text's meaning, to be either intrinsic or extrinsic. The interpretation is either intrinsic or extrinsic depending on where it ends up. If one is left with a statement about the work itself, the analysis has been intrinsic; if one is left with a statement about history or the author's life, the analysis has been extrinsic.

Complexity and ambiguity are related terms though opposites. Complexity implies multiple meanings, while ambiguity implies contradictory meanings. Both are important because they go "to the heart" of how a drama means something. This is very important in any type of art, and, unfortunately, has been lost or forgotten by many in society today. Hornby discusses the difference between associative and linear thinking. Associative thinking is a type in which an object evokes the receiver to think not only of the object itself, but of other objects or thoughts. Linear thinking only concerns itself with solving problems without considering side effects or questioning assumptions. Thus, with linear thinking, an object or action can only have one meaning, which, as Hornby states, is impossible.

Judgement on a text is inevitable. However, suspending judgement is necessary. Often directors say that a text has imperfections in it, that it is not very good. The director should be reminded in this instance that these imperfections are not isolated items in the text, but are transactions between himself and the text. Thus, in order to accomplish the best production, the director should alter his relationship to these faults. The text should be seen as perfect and should be analyzed as such. Only in this way will the text be viewed in its entirety and not just as a conglomeration of parts strewn together, some good, some bad. In fact, if one begins with the assumption that a bad text is good, one often realizes that they were wrong and just couldn't see it at the start. Ball states a similar view, saying that a script, and its playwright, should be trusted. Alterations, primarily cuts, of scripts can lead to important information being omitted.38

When discussing the final principle - text as wholistic - it is necessary to discuss the idea of unity in a text. To the Structuralist, unity is never at issue. All texts are unified, or, interconnected and must be treated as such. Unity is there; it only needs to be found in its manifestations. This deletes any attempt at "improving" a text in order to achieve the ideal unity. The difficulty is finding the unity and then realizing it in the production. Ball's book, Backwards and Forwards, discusses text analysis, like Hornby, in a structural context. Michael Langham indicates this in his introduction to the book. 

The usefulness of Backwards and Forwards lies in the fact that it reveals a script not only as literature, but as raw material for theatrical performance - sometimes with structural characteristics that make it comparable to a musical score.39
Ball's premise is simple. "A play is a series of actions. It is not about action, nor does it describe action." What then is "action"? "Action occurs when something happens that makes or permits something else to happen."40 Thus, an action is comprised of two parts - a first "something", or a cause, and a second "something", or an effect. In functional terms, this is stated as: Cause + Effect = An action. According to Ball, every movement in a drama, whether through verbal or physical action, causes a response of either, or both, types. Immediately, each effect produces an effect, thus making the initial effect become a cause. This cycle continues endlessly until the end of the play.41 Ball suggests that textual analysis be undertaken in a backwards motion. 
Only when we look at events in reverse order can we see, with certainty, how the dominoes fell, which fell against which. The fact that you (4) stand at the cash register paying for this book requires that you (3) found the book. Going forwards allows unpredictable possibility. Going backwards exposes that which is required. The present demands and reveals a specific past. One particular, identifiable event lies immediately before any other. But who can say what comes next? It can be anything. The next thing you see may be the next paragraph or it may be a little man from Mars. You don't know for sure until you look back on it. Examining events backwards ensures you will have no gaps in your comprehension of the script. When you discover an event you cannot connect to a previous event, you know there is a problem for either reader or writer to solve.42
Thus, textual analysis begins with the end of the text and ends with the beginning.

Both of these works influenced the analysis and, hence, decisions made toward both interpretation of script and the text's manifestations in the design. In the following chapter, I shall describe how these forms of analysis were employed with Little Eyolf

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 34 For example, this is the last play in which the playwright 
uses the convention of the solitary character speaking to 
himself in order to further the action.  (An example is the 
beginning of Act Two.) 

 35 Richard Hornby, Script Into Performance: A Structuralist 
Approach  (New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1987), 9. 

 36 Ibid, 10. 

  37 This, according to Hornby, would relieve theatre from 
"concept" productions (or "simile" productions, as Brustein 
calls them in his book Reimagining American Theatre), such as 
Shakespeare set in Brazil or Phaedra as a Bronx housewife, 
which only look at one aspect of the text rather than the 
whole of the text. 

     38 David Ball, Backwards and Forwards  (Carbondale: Southern 
Illinois University Press, 1983), 83. 

     39 Michael Langham, "Forward", in Ball, vii - viii. 

     40 Ball, 9. 

    41 This premise can be taken a step further, stating that this 
cycle continues until the performance ends, assuming that the 
final effect of the drama is the cause of an effect on the 

     42 Ball, 15. 

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